Great anticipation and excitement was put into the film adaptation of Hunter Thompson’s “The Rum Diary”. For months I was eager to watch the screening of the film I had witnessed from a distance in March of 2009. I remember seeing how the colorful 1950´s cars that were brought in to Puerto Rico from Cuba were parked along Norzagaray Street, giving our historical center a glamorous and retro edge to it.
Old San Juan´s streets were closed down to receive one of the most acclaimed actors of our times: Johnny Depp, who together with his family, converted his yacht on the shores overlooking La Perla, into his home for several months, during the filming of this movie.
Gonzo journalism has always been attractive to me. Ever since I watched “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” several years ago, I was drawed to the idea of becoming an anthro-journalist, living and breathing in the skin of one’s work subjects. Participant-observation techniques have always been a common practice among some of the greatest journalists of all times: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemmingway, and Hunter Thompson, among others. Founded by Thompson, gonzo journalism favors style and tone over truth and accuracy. During an interview in 1973 for Rolling Stones magazine, Thompson said, “If I’d written the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people—including me—would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.”
Another reason that makes Thompson controversial is his choice of topics, usually revolving around recreational drugs and alcohol experimentation, which he considered added an additional subjective flair to his reporting. The term “gonzo” has also come into (sometimes pejorative) use to describe journalism that is in the vein of Thompson’s style, characterized by a drug-fueled stream of consciousness writing technique. “The Rum Diary” is no exception.
Hunter S. Thompson wrote the novel in 1961, but it was not published until 1998. The independent production companies Shooting Gallery and SPi Films sought to adapt the novel into a film in 2000, and after Bram Sheldon declined the role, actor Johnny Depp was signed to star and to serve as executive producer. Nick Nolte was also signed to star alongside Depp. The project did not move past the development stage. After this, film problems seemed to continue. Several other well known actors such as Benicio del Toro were also supposed to star in the film, although because of internal differences these plans were also never adapted.
Directed by some dude called Bruce Robinson, a struggling alcoholic, “The Rum Diary” proved to be incredibly disappointing. The script, painfully bad. The cinematography and photography? Decent considering I am extremely far away from my Caribbean roots, and it was comforting to engage in tropical eye candy for two hours.
Paul Kemp, the journalist and main character played by Johnny Depp is a guy who has become increasingly disinterested in the US way of life under the Eisenhower administration and decides to move from New York to Puerto Rico for a breath of fresh air and motivation to work on a new book. He lands a job with the decaying San Juan Star newspaper and turns rum drinking into his favorite pastime. So much potential incapable of manifesting itself. “The Rum Diary” is unfortunately, a failed experiment that lacks a backbone, structure, interesting dialogue and character development, and fails to portray a great story about a journalist drowning in his own fears as seen thru the eyes of one of the most fascinating story tellers of the New Journalism movement: Hunter Thompson.